The war between content providers and ad blockers in browsers just got raised a notch with the news that Facebook is going to modify the digital signatures of ads on its site, thus circumventing ad blockers.
It's a better strategy than either nagging users to whitelist the site or worse, blocking all access to the content in the first place, which other sites have done. And for the firms blocking access to content all together, the strategy has backfired.
The company also made an announcement on its blog, with a lengthy explanation from Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, vice president of Facebook's ads and business platform, of why it's making such a move.
The company said it has begun offering "more powerful tools" that let users control the content of advertisements they see, so ads can be tuned toward their interests. This is not unlike the Trending Now news segment, which will show you more articles based on the ones you've shown interest in in the past.
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"We’ve designed our ad formats, ad performance and controls to address the underlying reasons people have turned to ad blocking software. When we asked people about why they used ad blocking software, the primary reason we heard was to stop annoying, disruptive ads. As we offer people more powerful controls, we’ll also begin showing ads on Facebook desktop for people who currently use ad blocking software," it wrote.
Bosworth told the Wall Street Journal that the issue is a matter of principle.
"Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on,” he said. "This isn’t motivated by inventory; it’s not an opportunity for Facebook from that perspective. We’re doing it more for the principle of the thing. We want to help lead the discussion on this."
Interestingly, 84 percent of Facebook’s ad revenue came from mobile users in the most recent quarter, but Facebook said it has lost some desktop ad revenue as a result of ad blockers. The Journal noted that ad blockers pose enough of a threat that Facebook added it as separate risk factor in its annual securities filing this year.
But to Bosworth's credit, he said the company has invested heavily in ensuring advertising on Facebook is "uninterruptive" and relevant and that the ads don't force their way onto users. Recently, I posted on a survey that found users don't necessarily want to block all ads, but they hate being bombarded with them. If Facebook recognizes that, they will be well ahead of many competitors.
Eyeo GmbH, the company behind Adblock Plus, wasn't thrilled at the news.
“This is an unfortunate move because it takes a dark path against user choice,” Eyeo said in a blog post. “But it’s also no reason to overreact: cat-and-mouse games in tech have been around as long as spammers have tried to circumvent spam filters.”